Stephanie Kwolek

Stephanie Kwolek
Stephanie Kwolek
New Kensignton, Pennsylvania
Death date
Associated organizations
Carnegie Mellon University, Dupont Pioneering Lab
Fields of study
Chemical Engineering
National Medal of Technology and Innovation, Perkin Medal, induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Kilby Award, 1999 Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award


Stephanie Kwolek was a famous American inventor and chemist best known for developing Kevlar, a poly synthetic material designed to be highly resistant. Due to its lightweight design, her invention is very commonly used within law enforcement and the armed forces.

Born in New Kensington, Pennsylvania on July 31st, 1923, Stephanie Kwolek developed a love of fabrics and sewing from her mother, a specialist homemaker. [1] Her father was a scientist, and she was able to inherent his skills and interests. [2]She spent a majority of her time exploring the woods and fields near her home, filling scrapbooks with various collectibles she had found. At one point she was interested in becoming a fashion designer, but her mother recommended she strive in another field. She became interested in teaching, chemistry, and medicine. [3]

Kwolek attended the Margaret Morrison Carnegie College of The Carnegie Institute of Technology, now called Carnegie-Mellon University. She graduated in 1946 with a BS in Chemistry, and planned to attend medical school. However, she wasn't able to afford to do so, and instead took a job at the Dupont's textile fabrics laboratory as a chemist in Buffalo, New York. Despite wanting to go to medical school, she instead found a deep fondness for chemistry, and choose to develop her skills within the profession. When the Dupont Pioneering Research Laboratory opened in 1950 in Wilmington, Delaware, Kwolek moved there to continue her work for the company. She was one of the only female chemists working after the end of WWII. With the support of the director of the lab, W. Hale Church, Kwolek had much success.

After working years at Dupont with polymers, and obtaining 28 patents throughout her career, her breakthrough came with her work in the intermediates used in low-temperature polymerization. The result was finding an aramid polymer. First rejected for spinning because it was cloudy and thought to damage equipment, Kwolek was able to spin a solution and created a strong, stiff fiber that was five times stronger per ounce than steel and about half the density of fiberglass. [4]

Today, Kevlar is used in many ways. Its combination of lightness and strength has seen it used in a large variety of vehicular tire rubbers to strengthen resilience and durability. It is also used in a large field of protective clothing applications, such as bulletproof vests, which have saved the lives of many police officers and members of the armed forces. [5]

Since her creation of Kevlar, Kwolek has gone on to receive numerous awards for her achievements, including induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, the National Medal of Technology, and the Perkin Medal. She had continued to work in polymer research at the Dupont Pioneering Lab until her retirement in 1986. After retirement, she went on to pursue some of her personal hobbies such as gardening, and began to mentor high school students who were interested in chemistry. [6] She passed away on June 18th, 2014 in Wilmington, Delaware. [7]